Can you tell our readers about Square Wheels®?
These are illustrations about communications, motivation, teamwork, and innovation that people use to engage and involve others in organizational improvement efforts. The main cartoon is used to generate involvement and ideas. It shows a wooden wagon rolling on Square Wheels with a cargo of round ones. I’ll show it to a group of people and simply ask them, “How might this reflect how organizations really work?” and give them time to discuss their ideas in small groups.
Amazingly, we’ve collected hundreds of different ideas from people, since they see different things and focus on their own themes. It is kind of like an organizational Rorschach Test (inkblot) where people see what they do because they project their beliefs onto it. Some people see issues of poor communication or trust while others see problems and opportunities. Some only see hard work and no improvement. So, it makes it easy to segue into asking them about the Square Wheels in their own organization—what things thump and bump along—and to consider what round wheels might already exist in their wagons.
We use this to get people thinking about what they can improve, what changes can be implemented, how communication can be improved and what we can do to better share missions and visions and other things like that. It is really about facilitating group involvement. “All of us know more than any of us,” and “Nobody ever washes a rental car.” The cartoons help engage and involve people in making improvements and some ownership decreases resistance and improves implementation. It’s pretty simple, really.
What are the benefits of performance management?
When you get people involved in making improvements, morale increases. You can see improvements in employee retention and thus improve quality and performance while also seeing decreases in hiring and training costs. There is also the issue of “exemplary performer:” top performers working in the same environment and getting more done—better. Identifying these round wheel behaviors in the workplace can improve overall performance as an increasing amount of the average and below average individuals can choose to do things differently if they see what they are doing as “Square Wheels.”
And some systems and processes just do not work well. They need improvement, but the managers may be too busy “pulling the rope and looking ahead” to understand what might be done differently. I’ve consistently found that people doing the job routinely have great ideas for improvement; and improvements equal profitability in so many situations. Managers should be leading and facilitating these kinds of workplace improvements, supporting teams, and teamwork to incent change.
How, if at all, has your business or the management industry been impacted by changes in the economy?
The economy could certainly be better, from my perspective, and the first thing that generally gets cut is the training budget. For the past 10 years though, I have focused on running a global business selling effective performance improvement tools to broaden my marketplace. While I used to do a lot of presentations and consulting, my focus for the past five years has been on selling my tools through the Internet.
We are continually developing foreign language versions of my team building exercises (Slovenian, Greek, Arabic, and Korean are current projects) in addition to others we already have. I also work with consultants in places like China and Japan with exclusive contracts. And working at home is both convenient as well as cost-effective—I’ve been selling through the Net for a long time. In fact, more than 10 years ago, I was presenting ideas on “Working Home, Selling Globally” at international training conferences.
So, my situation is pretty good. I have unique products that work effectively, a global marketplace, collaborative arrangements with consultants, low cost of sales, solid profit margins, and not a lot of direct competitors. Plus, my materials are easily used and really effective.