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

Tag: statistics on engagement

Teaching The Caterpillar to Fly – Thoughts on Change – Part Four

Square Wheels, Change and the World of Work
— statistics and ideas and possibilities —

Part One of this series talks about the danger of knowing The Answer when it comes to working to manage and lead change and Part Two focuses on some of the realities of the change process, with factoids on caterpillars and butterflies. To support this endeavor, we have also added two different poems on the themes of transformation and change that I hope you will find interesting. Joan Simmerman’s poem is here and Fern Lebo’s poem is here.

The Third Part of this series has a focus on how we can use the Square Wheels theme and approach to better involve and engage people in this process of involving, engaging and understand the process of change itself. Here, we expand on some of the statistics around workplace attitudes and overall involvement. It is NOT a pretty picture of butterflies flying and more like a picture of boots crushing caterpillars.

This (Part 4)  is about Square Wheels, Change and the World of Work – What are the main issues?

The continuing and overwhelming global response to Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoons indicates there exists a perception in business today that things do not work smoothly, that lots of mud exists and that few in leadership positions appear to be listening. And change and improvement are paramount needs.


The issues here are around involvement and engagement and communications as they relate to workplace performance. The caterpillars seem to be actively resisting the changes and transformations that are part of continuous continuous improvement. The people are not seeing themselves as butterflies and are not being involved or engaged in the processes.

Many statistics from a wide range of sources strongly support a real Square Wheels Workplace Reality when it comes to how things are rolling forward. My thought was to put a bunch of them all in one place:

A Fierce, Inc., survey found:

  • 86% of respondents blame lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures; similarly, 92% of respondents also agree that a company’s tendency to hit or miss a deadline will impact bottom-line results.
  • More than 70% of individuals either agree or strongly agree that a lack of candor impacts the company’s ability to perform optimally.
  • More than 97% of those surveyed believe the lack of alignment within a team directly impacts the outcome of any given task or project.
  • 90% of respondents believe decision-makers should seek out other opinions before making a final decision; approximately 40% feel leaders and decision-makers consistently fail to do so.
  • Nearly 100% (99.1%) prefer a workplace in which people identify and discuss issues truthfully and effectively, yet less than half said their organization’s tendency is to do so.


  • An old study by IBM and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) shows that while 84% of organizations know workforce effectiveness is important to achieving business results, only 42% of those surveyed managers say they devote sufficient time to people management.
  • 83% of those high in self-awareness are workplace top performers while just 2% of bottom performers are high in self-awareness. High performers see more of their environment and do things to generate better results.
  • Just 36% of people possess an adequate amount of self-awareness, and 70% of folks are ineffective at handling conflict and stress.
  • Only 35% of workers characterize the level of trust between senior management and employees as favorable. Little more than half of employees will recommend their own company as a good place to work, according to a survey by Watson Wyatt. The perception is that other places offer better opportunities.
  • Only 23% of those surveyed by Gallop for The Marlin Company said they are “extremely satisfied” with their work.
  • In repeated Wyatt Company Work USA Surveys, they report that most executives (88%) thought that employee participation was important to productivity yet only 30% say their companies do a good job of involving employees in decisions that affect them. Only 38% of employees report that their companies do a good job of seeking opinions and suggestions of employees, which has dropped since 1989. And even when opinions are sought, only 29% of employees say that the company does a good job of acting on those suggestions. (and we continue to see data like these)
  • Towers Perrin surveyed 250,000 workers at 60 companies and found only 48% thought their bosses listened to their ideas or acted upon them. And only 60% of employees think their bosses keep them well informed and only 32% feel management makes good and timely decisions.
  • Just 38% of workers said the information needed to accomplish their duties is widely shared and only 36% feel their companies actively sought worker opinions.
  • KellyOCR (2013) reported that 44% of people say they would perform at higher levels if the company compensation were tied to performance or productivity — in other words, they would do better if they were paid better!
  • Kepner-Tregoe reported that their survey showed that two-thirds of managers and hourly workers estimate that their organizations use less than 50 percent of their collective smarts and when asked to select the barriers to thinking from a list of 13 possible causes, both managers and workers cited the same three causes: organizational politics, time pressures, and lack of involvement in decision-making.
  • KT’s research also said that a little over half the hourly workers, and 40 percent of the managers, stated that frequent second-guessing of their decisions created a disincentive to spend a lot of time thinking up solutions to job-related problems.
  • Dale Carnegie & Associates produced the startling finding that only 46% give their best effort at work. Only 36% feel challenged by their jobs; 52% have not attained their personal objectives; and more than 43% feel trapped in their jobs.”
  • 59% of engaged employees say that their job brings out their most creative ideas. Only 3% of dis-engaged employees report this – Gallup
  • 49% of employed workers and professionals from across the globe participating in a recent Kelly survey (2012) say they constantly have their antennae out for new job opportunities — even when they are happy in their current position.
  • Booz (2012) found that just 43% of participants said they were highly effective in generating new ideas. And only 36% felt the same way about converting ideas to development projects. Altogether, only a quarter of all companies indicated they were highly effective at the front end of innovation.
  • Managers think their conflict-management skills are better than their employees think they are and this is calculated to be costing U.S. companies upward of $359 billion per year in lost manpower hours. Nearly one-third of all managers surveyed feel they’re skilled at dealing with conflict but only a fifth of employees believe their manager deals with conflict well:
  • While 31% of managers believe they handle conflict well, only 22% of non-managerial employees think their managers do a great job of sorting out disagreements effectively.
  • While only 23% of managers feel that they do not handle conflict as well as they should, fully 43% of the non-management employees feel that managers do not handle it as well as they should.
  • Among those who reported spending time dealing with conflict, 76% (81% in the U.S.) have seen desirable outcomes such as major innovations, better solutions, and increased motivation; 76% have seen conflict lead to a positive outcome; 41% have seen conflict lead to better understanding of others; and 29% have seen it lead to a better solution to a workplace problem.

Decades of consistent survey results indicate that there are wheely many problems at hand in most workplaces and that an improved sense of involvement and engagement would pay great dividends. Workers feel isolation and non-involvement with the things that impact them directly. Many people feel that management just does not care and are going through the motions…

Many wagon pushers feel the problems at hand but few get the satisfaction from having things improved. But there is often little incentive for taking risks and making improvements. And it is not obvious that leaders in the organization are always listening to ideas or always willing to implement change. Those perceptions can be addressed — they are merely perceptions of reality.

Ask, and Ye Shall Receive!

We need leaders to take the time to discuss the possibilities for improvement and engage the energies of all of the people. This is a two-way street as we can ask for feedback as well as share ideas and best practices. It’s not rocket science; it’s about involvement focused on improving the task at hand. It should seem clear that the potential for improvement already exists, that there is a butterfly within each of us.

The Round Wheels are already in the wagon.
Caterpillars can fly, if they would just lighten up!

But some workers just may not see the potential for improvement or the need for change and some managers may not see their role as one of developing people and innovating performance improvements. The statistics consistently show, however, that most people feel that improvements could be made if others would be more open and asking about the possibilities for improvement.

The Square Wheels are everywhere!

A few more key learning points:

  • Knowing “The Answer” will prevent you from seeking out other possibilities and ideas, limiting possibilities. (see part one)
  • Groups generate better ideas than individuals — do things in teams of 5 to 7 people. Allow groups to mutually support the others around them to optimize peer support for any change initiatives.
  • There are more ideas available than one might initially think. Play generates creativity and innovation. Pressure doesn’t – Pressure only generates resistance.
  • Not all the good ideas are immediate or even obvious until a problem is discovered and discussed. The Play is The Thing.

Another learning point is that a focus on the things that work but don’t work well takes clear objectivity and perspective from leadership. We must stop pushing and pulling in order to get far enough away from the work to see possibilities for improvement. This is especially tough to do when one’s goals and objectives don’t allow for much development time or arms’ length perspective.

By paying attention to the Square Wheels and then paying attention to the perceived possibilities for improvement, we create a bit of cognitive dissonance or discomfort caused by a gap between the perception of how things are and how they could be. By becoming less comfortable with the current processes and more aware of what might be done, we are more likely to initiate changes and improvements.

There are no bad people in companies; there are just good people doing clunky things in poor systems. When you put people into a poorly functioning process, there is little chance that they will perform well. We must address the operational and motivational systems to engage and motivate people. And the people who have hands on experience only need perspective and support.


My goal for this section was to elaborate a bit more on the problems that organizations face but to add a framework that the existing issues can be somewhat straightforward to address. People are not involved and engaged, so take steps to involve and engage them. People do not feel as if things work smoothly and they have ideas for improvement, so allow them to share their ideas. People feel that managers are not paying attention to the people in the workplaces, so change that perception and listen to them.

Square Wheels image of making improvement


For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman CPF, CPT is still managing partner of PMC

Scott is developer of the Square Wheels® images and the board game version of Lost Dutchman

Scott has presented his concepts in 47 countries and collaborates with consultants and trainers worldwide.

You can reach him at and you can see his profile at LinkedIn


Scott’s blog on People and Performance is here.

Scott’s blog on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels® are a registered trademark of Performance Management Company

Sabotage, Defense, Engagement and Workplace Collaboration

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

The Situation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pin Hits Balloon red color

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

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

Defense wagon yellow 70

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

FortVanderWeilen th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The solution:

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do you do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be there and supportive, not away and adversarial.

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

If it is to be words


If not you who words

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

Square Wheels are simply great tools

Have Fun out there!

Scott Debrief

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

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