Performance Management Company Blog

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

Tag: Square Wheels and LEGO

MORE on being “Too Busy” to implement new improvements

GENERALLY, most workers in most organizations will say that management does a pretty poor job of listening to them. And most supervisors feel that their managers generally do a pretty poor job of listening to THEM!

Being as I love using illustrations and images to represent the status quo, this common scenario seemed like a good subject to take on while also reframing some workable solutions.

Let me begin with my friend, Haken Forss’s, development of a LEGO-based scene of an old reality. I ran across his image online a few years ago which led to us having a very influential conversation about our businesses and how we illustrate and communicate.

My works around this started back in 1993 when introducing our illustration called Square Wheels One:

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of PMC and © 119.

We had trademarked Square Wheels® and began using this image, worldwide, featuring it in my presentations and toolkits for facilitation and engagement.

Square Wheels One generated quite solid interactive discussions about workplace improvement and communications and teamwork, so much so that I have a collection of about 300 one-liners from this image alone. It was amazing how well it worked and how well the concept was remembered. It was a simply approach to changing the thinking about people and performance.

At some point, a colleague sent me a warning that my theme was being used illegally and that I should check it out. That began a really fruitful and positive interaction with the consultant (Hakan Forss) who generated this illustration and used it in a blog post:

We're Too Busy to implement improvement

Our conversations led to my using LEGO bricks and figures to represent a wide variety of the line-art scenes and situations that we produced in the over 300 Square Wheels representations drawn by Roy Sabean. And from there, we generated stop-motion animations and a broad variety of poster quotes, poems and haiku.

The anchor point for my thinking has always been people and continuous performance improvement. SO, let me take the image concepts and rampage through some ideas about what might be different in the workplaces of the world.

1 – My first point is that nearly everyone identifies with the Square Wheels One image as a workplace reality. We show it as, “How might this represent what really happens in most organizations?” And very quickly, people and tabletops go from talking about their general perceptions about work and communications and structure into discussing  their perceived issues of lack of vision, continuous un-improvement, and the isolation of wagon pullers from their everyday realities. And it is funny how even very senior managers will often see themselves at the back of the wagon!

People often see themselves as victims of organizational non-progress, maybe.

2 – In Hakan’s image, someone appears with a different solution. But even the pusher at the back rejects this new idea. They and the wagon puller are too invested in the current operation to even consider the possibility of doing something differently. They are simply too busy trying to reach their shared goal of moving forward and “GO AWAY” seems to be the message. “We are NOT interested.”

I think that is a common reaction for many viewers of Hakan’s image. They readily relate to the perceived reality that they, too, are just too busy to consider things.

But is that really reality?

3 – Our initial redo of this idea, using the PMC style of LEGO scenes, looked like this:
Too Busy to Improve original art

We then thought to add the conversational bubbles, but in our view of how things really work in most organizations, the people at the back were NOT resistant to the idea. Maybe this is because in the PMC paradigm of the line-art and the LEGO, they had the cargo of ROUND wheels inside the wagon and were hands on enough to be a bit frustrated with how things were working and with general communications.

We believe that most Round Wheel ideas for performance already exist among the wagon pushers of the world, and that in many workplaces, those exemplary performing wagon pushers are already using round wheels in their Square Wheel world.

4 – Sitting with Joan and playing with powerpoint, our first edit generated this as a reality of perceptions around this scene:Too Busy to make improvements says the boss of Square Wheels

Some person with a new idea suggests it to the manager who is simply too busy to even consider doing something differently. It is not a hostile kind of reaction, just indifferent. This was our first take on a caption, somewhat influenced by Hakan.

But we added one more comment, the “Really” that is coming from one of the wagon pushers. This could be a reaction of disbelief? But one that might not be heard by the wagon pusher.

Maybe.

5 – Some continued reflection and reframing and integrating the image with thinking about people and performance then generated what I think is a more realistic commentary, one where the workers would appreciate an opportunity to make improvements but where that common issue of listening between the pushers and puller is problematic. (Plus, there is that issue of rejection of ideas by managers.)

So, the image reshaped itself to look like this and become one of my posters:

Poster Square Wheels Too Busy to Improve

Susan, in this image, is obviously not an outsider, like the character I see in Hakan’s image. She is someone who works for the wagon puller but also maybe someone whose ideas are not highly valued. Research shows that many workers are discounted in this way.

In my father’s trucking business, he had one truck driver who was always stopping by businesses on his way home looking for new business and sharing those contacts with my father, but these contacts were not followed up by my dad, based on how he reacted to Orin’s notes and comments when I listened to their conversations. My dad would actually tell me to tell Orin that he was not around!

I think a lot of bosses discount the ideas of their employees. On the other hand, look at the reaction of the wagon pushers: Might they be interested in doing something more better and faster?

This is just an idea that bubbled up as I played with these ideas. There are always things we can do to go #morebetterfaster and to accomplish more.

If you want to reflect on the theme in the poster or place it in your workplace for contemplation and discussion, simply send me an email to receive an email of it as a high resolution image.

Email me at Scott@SquareWheels.com,

 

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.

 

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

A Square Wheels Quote on Meaningfulness

Since much of my thinking involves the workplace and engagement and productivity, and my blog IS about People and Performance, I thought to increase your understanding of how things really work with a simple illustration and quote.

It’s also Friday the 13th so I also thought that people might be searching for meaningfulness in the world around us. SO, here is a simple illustration of one of my most favorite and useful quotes when one is searching for meaning in the events of the workplace:

A Square Wheels quote about meaningfulness by Scott Simmerman

Remember that caterpillars can fly if they would just lighten up.

And remember that we all need a little levity and a better understanding of how things got to be how they are and where we are heading in the future. It should be obvious that we can make changes to make improvements,

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 are a trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

Sweet Feed for Herding the Cows: Ideas for Improved Organizational Results

There is a lot written out there about motivation and all sorts of complicated theories that are similar in difficult to landing a vehicle on a moving comet. Yeah, we can do it, but it does take a bunch of real rocket scientists to accomplish, along with a lot of computers and mathematics and a good bit of luck.

We often hear of really difficult issues of alignment when faced with implementing strategy or change or accomplishing organizational innovation. So let me take a moment to back up from all the complexity and share a simple conceptual model of how to get things moving in the right direction.

Okay, I admit to having a doctorate in behavioral neurophysiology, so I actually do understand that brain science stuff. But my role in life is to simplify things, not explain the neurobiological chemistry of all this stuff…

Okay. You have a lot of cows in the pasture and you need to get them all to some new place. The normal strategy we see is that we get all the cowboys in an all-hands meeting and we talk about situational issues and engage them in some cattle-driving. This appears in a lot of different ways but overall, I think of it as getting the cowboys on their horses and having them ride at the far edge of the herd, making a lot of noise and generating a lot of activity and fear.

If we do this “right,” we can get the cows moving through the gate at the opposite end of the pasture somewhat quickly, albeit with a loss of a few cows, high levels of frantic movement and a good bit of stress from them hearing all the shouting and gunfire. And it might also be fun for the cowboys, if they do not have to do this every month or so.

Sweet Feed and a more effective approach:

A different theory would say that it is not necessary that you motivate ALL the cows at the same time, since you really cannot do that anyway. But you can also help to involve and engage a few of the leader cows to support your efforts and that this will actually engage the rest of them.

So, you get up in front of the cows nearest the gate (the ones closest to your actually new desired goals or direction and the ones who can actually see where you want them to go) and you entice them by tossing out a little sweet feed tossed between them and the gate. “AH,” say those cows. “This looks like an interesting situation!” and you gradually draw them forward toward the goal, which gets closer and closer. This actually does not take a long time, once they notice the incentive. (Note: This can take longer if they do not trust the people between them and the gate!)

The reality is that the other cows, also nearer the gate than the ones at the back, will also get curious as to what is happening and will follow the lead cows. As the distance increases between these two sets of cows and the others, you might also have a few cowboys at the back stir things up a little bit, but not so much as to cause a stampede. The cows in that larger group will be observed to close the distance to the front cows.

Pretty soon, you have them all moving forward, since we can predict a normal bell-shaped curve for most measures of most things in most organizations. The shape of the curve will remain relatively constant and this will include the distance between the top performers / front cows and those at the back that will move with the group but less quickly than we might like.

Scott Simmerman being confused by a graph showing performance and #s of cows

Scott Simmerman being confused by a graph showing performance and numbers of cows. Seriously!

A shift to the right of the median (line down the middle) will simply move the whole curve to the right.

We tend to make this “performance thing” really complicated and we can add all sorts of behavioral models, intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, measurement and appraisal systems and we can overlay all of those on different change models, personality and information sorting personal inventory measurement systems, and all that other stuff we do to block most change from occurring.

For me, I find we get change when we:

  • Make the vision of the future more attractive
  • Increase the discomfort with the way things are now for individuals and groups
  • Do things to make people feel successful with their change and improvement efforts
  • Create positive peer support for the desired changes and strategies

Nobody ever washes a rental car” and we cannot simply expect people to change because we are pushing them to move by using cowboys, gunshots and other organizational noise. We can do some simple “sweet feed” kinds of things to improve their individual engagement and involvement as well as to do some teamwork kinds of things to get people moving forward together.

We improve our results by getting our individuals to want to improve their results. Sure, we can do things like building smaller pastures to have fewer cows to move and we can also add electric fences and cowboys in Humvees to decrease how many are involved in chasing the cows forward.

Or not. So:

Give people a reason to change. Help them move forward.

Hope you found this fun. My old friend Ken Junkins used this story back in a situation with some managers maybe back in the early 80s and I thought it was a solid and interesting metaphor that has gotten a few of my own spins tossed in to make it clear.

I liken the situation, shifting my metaphors a little, to the people simply standing and not engaging or participating. They are simply standing!

Square Wheels image of Lego Team

What we need to do is get them more involved and engaged in actually doing things and making changes.

LEGO Square Wheels image of teamwork and innovation

People want to change the wheels of the wagon to make things work better. It is relatively easy to engage them in fixing the things that they think need fixing. And their testing of the waters and initial successes in making improvements will help them to make more improvements down the road.

 

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 are a trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

Purposeful Meeting Openers and Icebreakers: Relevant and Congruent

In my experience, many trainers and consultants focused on involving and engaging participants use some sort of warm-up exercise, with the idea that getting people “warmed up” in some way will help them learn the material more effectively or bring more energy to the training itself.

One LinkedIn discussion had a trainer wanting to start a class focused on “workplace improvement best practices” and was looking for some relevant activity to get things started. The goal was to have something fast and simple but that would also generate some cognitive dissonance and frustration anchored to them not being able to finish a task on time. His goal was to use frustration to generate an initial motivation to correct their existing workplace issues.

In my experience, motivation already exists in most workplaces with most supervisors on performance improvement issues. There are often a variety of ways to identify and implement improvements and best practices but a key is to generate the intrinsic motivation to actually do something differently. I am also pretty sure that generating frustration as a desired outcome of this activity was not the best idea, since many of those attending were probably already frustrated by their workplace or by the fact that they were now in some “training program” when they should be working.

In other words:

  • He was asking for ideas about how to make the trainees frustrated because they could not get some exercise / task done well in the allotted time.
  • My thought is that their workplace was like most others and that the managers were already frustrated with these same issues of quality and timeliness.

My other thought was anchored to the simple idea that getting people frustrated may not be the best way for starting a training class. Beginning a program, negatively, does not generally get people positively motivated and the potential reactions can be somewhat uncontrollable.

Some other people in LinkedIn also elaborated on some of the possible unintended outcomes of such an activity, too. (The conversation got pretty bloody but we also think we saved him from a huge strategic mistake, on which he agreed!!).

The other half of my thinking pounded on the very common use of “irrelevant icebreakers” as a complete waste of time — you know, the goofy meeting openers that are not related to the issue or desired outcome of the session and play on people telling three truths and one lie about themselves or the most interesting thing about their hometown or stating something that no one would ever guess about them. (you can find a long list of such goofy actual activities here)
(https://performancemanagementcompanyblog.com/2012/11/02/motivation-training-and-icebreakers-keeping-it-real/)

I’m in agreement with a lot of other consultant trainers, especially about all that psychology stuff and what happens in training. One psychologist shared his approach of having people literally “draw a pig” that represented things in their organization. (The reference to “pig” as being too close to corporate operations and management these days with all those raises and salaries of CEOs in excess of 300 times the workers as well as the growing pay gaps, policy issues, etc.)

My psychology and engagement framework would use an illustration like that below as a tool to get people to project their ideas about how their organization really worked onto an image. It works like an inkblot test – there is no reality but people push one onto the image, one that also allows them to share some thinking about the issues and opportunities that already exist. And it is really fast and tight.

The image shows a wagon rolling along on Square Wheels® while the cargo is round rubber tires. (There are other aspects of leadership, motivation and vision along with best practices. Plus, the image and its discussion gives people an anchor point for focused conversation and discussion, present and future. The term “Square Wheels is simply shorthand for things that do not work smoothly.)

Square Wheels - How organizations really work Metaphor organizational improvement

The idea is to get individuals thinking about issues and groups collaborating and sharing ideas about the illustration – brainstorming with an organizational behavioral anchor. Groups can also be motivated through a little competition to make a longer list (facilitation) and what players do is to project their beliefs about their own organization onto the illustration (the Rorschach or inkblot effect).

If you are going to take their valuable time in a class, why not focus on issues of innovation and teamwork and involvement about their workplace, and not some completely unrelated thing like 3 Truths and a Lie or Dragon Tag or some such “energizer.”

Using the cartoon as an anchor to the reality of how things really work, we get them talking about their issues — the things that do not work smoothly — and the ideas that already exist within the context of making the wagon move more effectively. This approach also allows discussion without the attack on management or structures. It has proven itself to be “developmentally neutral” and non-political in that regard.

The behavior and ideas and issues in play can then be linked to a lot of different kinds of content for your training session, and the activity thus made congruent and relevant.That is something that cannot be done with so many of the very general icebreakers — it is hard to make the transition of doing one and then quickly linking to a real business purpose. (Sure, you can use some words but their actual behaviors are generally off target and non-congruent — how does making up a funny name relate to workplace improvement?)

Best practices are Round Wheels.

The focus on the training and performance improvement might be linked to making Square Wheels roll more smoothly. You can coach people on identifying SWs and generating round ones, while generating dissociation and second-position perspective. Issues of change and implementation (stopping the wagon and changing the wheels) can be part of your, “What are we going to try to do differently after we leave here?” discussion. Sharing round wheel ideas is easy and this begins a process of continuous continuous improvement.


Learn more about the Square Wheels Icebreaker.

You can find another article on this issue of effectively using trainee time and optimizing impact by clicking on this link:

Blog Icon for Icebreaker link

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.

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com
and on Google+ at plus.google.com/+DrScottSimmerman

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

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

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Some New Thoughts on Trust and Devils Advocate

My plans are to develop a solid whitepaper on the benefits of challenging existing assumptions and challenging status quo, with the goal of finding solid ideas that merit implementation or to identify issues in generating innovation and process improvement. There is a LOT of data and a LOT of success stories around all this that I want to elaborate on and share.

So, the note-taking and quote-taking continue and I am waiting for the brain to say, “You got it, now go!” So far, no such auditory trigger has been pulled. So I muddle with the meddling. And I wanted to get something up on this useful topic.

What I AM doing is continuing the framing of the issue. I must keep the framework and tools really simple, because lots of data also suggest that supervisors and managers are way overloaded and functionally unable to add much new to their plate of responsibilities.

My thought is that facilitating this process with the Square Wheels tools makes really good sense, since the approach really does not require any significant facilitation skills training or other costly roadblocks. If the manager wants to do things, they can simply choose to do them.

My oft used quotes are that:

  • Trust is the residue of Promises Fulfilled. (Frank Navran)
  • The Round Wheels are already in your wagon. (Scott Simmerman)
  • A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world. (John LeCarre)
  • Nobody ever washes a rental car. (Scott Simmerman)

ALL of these lend themselves to the reality that the supervisor has to be the one to involve and engage their people in workplace improvement ideas in order to generate intrinsic motivation and process improvement, and the ideas already exist and people can develop a sense of ownership that will support their implementation.

So, I developed two simple Posters using my LEGO cartoons to help frame the issue. The issue is a simple one: Most workplaces have unengaged people simply doing the work of pushing their wagon and it needs to be acceptable for them to question the reality with management on occasion. This can generate new ideas as well as improve teamwork and intrinsic motivation for working.

LEGO POSTER Devil's Advocate simply

But one HAS to stop pushing and pulling in order to have the mental time to even consider options.

LEGO SWs One POSTER Devil's Advocate Challenge

The TRUST aspect of this comes from behavior. If you can make promises and commitments about implementing the ideas of the workers, if you can form empowered teams and allow them to operate in a way to make those improvements, you build the trust between you one wheel at a time. Approaching the workplace like this allows you that opportunity to act congruently, set clearer expectations about desired results and outcomes, and to give recognition for steps of improvement.

(Click here to see a supporting article on Trial and Error Thinking)

Trial and Error Blame Frame color red

What we do with our Square Wheels toolkits is offer up a simple-to-use and very inexpensive toolkit for involving people and generating their thoughts around the Square Wheels (what is not working smoothly) and their Round Wheel ideas for possibilities for improvement.

Good ideas spin up easily from this approach and the materials themselves lend themselves to engagement and involvement, since the approach is to simply use the cartoons to ask for ideas.

Tools for Involving and Engaging PeopleIf you want to improve engagement of people and improve performance, you cannot wait for HR to offer up some solutions. Get a grip on things by letting go of the rope.

Don’t Just DO Something, Stand There!

I will guarantee that these tools work for engagement and innovation and that they are simple to use. They come complete with all sorts of backup materials and there are dozens of blog posts within the PMC Blog that offer ideas for facilitation and framing,

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

 

LEGO, Square Wheels, and Teamwork – Celebrating Success

Let me illustrate my thinking on issues of corporate performance, innovation, teamwork and the basic issue of alignment, since I think that some people get this wrong. And, as usual, I will try to keep this as simple as possible!

Let me take a really simple approach using some stuff out of the attic and constructing some ideas on teamwork:

First, there is the issue of how things normally work, people-wise, within an organization:

LEGO Chaos of People

The Chaos of Un-Aligned People

Then there is the issue of teamwork, getting people going in the same direction and in alignment to collaborate and push forward together:

The team, facing forward and ready to go.

The team, facing forward and ready to go.

And then there is the rigid alignment that some people think is positive, with people in lockstep and overly aligned:

We can be TOO aligned and rigidly structured.

We can be TOO aligned and rigidly structured.

If there is too much rigidity and structure in the system, people will spend more time keeping people in line and maintaining control and the innovative and collective collaboration of the group will suffer. Keeping a balance between alignment and chaos is where we are likely to find the highest levels of motivation and engagement and the sharing of ideas. Control will limit intellectual collectivity; some level of chaos will help generate innovation.

Since I got that old box of LEGO® out of the attic, I might as well start messing around and creating some stuff. I’ve now taken about 150 pictures to use these LEGO to illustrate some of the Square Wheels concepts in a slightly different way, visually. Expect to see many more in here…

You can see some of my colleague Hakan Forss’ work at http://hakanforss.wordpress.com/too-busy-to-improve/

Please also note that I have a whole big bunch of LEGO based exercises — free — on my other website. You can go to that page of game designs by clicking here:

Some LEGO-based exercises

Some LEGO-based exercises

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman, Surprised

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.

LEGO® is a registered trademark of The LEGO Group

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