Exclusive Interview with Scott “Square Wheels” Simmerman

| September 3, 2013 | 0 Comments
Square Wheels One image of how things really work

Square Wheels One image of how things really work

Scott Simmerman is easily the most innovative creator of Change Management training materials. His Square Wheels coaching materials are fun, engaging and instructive.

Scott has kindly consented to participate in an exclusive interview for the INFOSERV ONLINE ACADEMY.

INFOSERV Online Academy (IOA): Scott, you have been a guru in the Change Management domain for a very long time.  What have you distilled as the most important thing that the leadership of a high impact change initiative must get right?

Scott: I think everyone resists change and everyone changes. Simply put, people will always resist the changes done TO them but are much more likely to change if it is their idea. So, the situation is important as is the approach to generating change in individuals and in the workplace. There is all sorts of research into the issues but I distill it down to a simple truth:

Nobody ever washes a rental car!
That is not to say that people never wash rental cars but it is about the general idea that ownership is important and that if the idea is their idea, it is much more likely to be accepted and reframed and implemented than if it is someone else’s idea.
Pushing gets pushback.
We also bump into the issues of visions, missions, goals, expectations and measurements a lot, so the issue of alignment is critical. Workplace statistics show that not everyone understands their role in the goal. They might understand the tasks, but not how they benefit the organization and how their activities help or hinder.
Leaders at the top must design change that matters, change that has impact. It is the leaders in the middle who support the change and put the systems and processes into place to allow the change to occur.
But it is the front-line supervisor and manager who need to use their facilitation skills to involve and engage people in that shared vision, make them somewhat uncomfortable with the way things are now as related to that, and to generate the peer support / teamwork and the small successes that will help drive what I call continuous continuous improvement. They will continue to make process improvements and small changes in performance, making people feel that their personal efforts are perceived and understood and accepted and appreciated.
Simple, huh?

IOA:  What are some of the key ingredients in getting that critical thing right?

Okay – here is a list:

  1. Clear and actionable vision that defines behaviors needed
  2. Changes in measurements and especially in feedback systems for performance
  3. Perceived management support — real stuff — for doing these efforts
  4. Facilitation skills by the front-line management to involve and engage people in the change initiative
  5. Teamwork and peer support for improvements, desired and made

IOA: What are the most important pitfalls to avoid?

Dilbert said, “Change is good. You go first.”

By that, I simply mean to say that change does take time. You have early adapters who will try things right away, but the majority of people will be cautious to see if there are any potential negatives for doing things differently. You may even have some active resisters, who need even more support or assurance.
That is why facilitation and teamwork are so critical. A resister on a team is often convinced through the peer pressure to re-align to the new expectations. Poor performers learn new best practices from the team, too. So there are all sorts of advantages.
On the other hand, teamwork is not “magic wand and fairy dust” kinds of organizational imperative. That takes time to get rolling, too, in so many cultures that are not currently team-oriented and that are “leader-led” without a lot of participatory involvement of the workers. We are talking about cultural changes here.
And middle management can be the biggest hurdle, because they get pressed for change themselves from the top and the bottom.
IOA: We know that there will be a hard core that may not actively object to the change initiative but will not be engaged in the process. What is the antidote to “passive resistance”?
Is "passive resistance" a reality?

Is “passive resistance” a reality?

I have a blog article up that discusses this and actually talks about the reality that this resistance is not passive in any respect, that it often even involves sabotage!

People in companies have histories. Not all those histories are all that positive, and haven’t we all heard that one employee say something along the lines of, “Well, I remember back in 1998 when…”
When I hear that anchoring, I know that there remain unresolved issues. And there are lots of approaches. What is that old phrase, “The firings will continue until the morale improves.”?
I think that my BEST people are sometimes what I call the Spectator Sheep. You know who they are, since they are always voicing their opinions of“Naaaaaaaaaa, Baaaaaaaaa.” And they stand on the hill and look at what is going on; they are NOT actively involved in much.
Carefully listening to their issues and understanding their ideas for improvement is important, since my experience says that a lot of what they see is spot-on. They DO have perspective and yes, some really are mentally ill (grin), but they can be involved and engaged and when you get them demonstrably involved and aligned and participating, what an unreal message it sends to everyone else.
Again, people do NOT like being pushed, and pushing generates active muscular resistance. Try it. Go push someone. See if they do not push back or even punch out your lights. (Just kidding — do NOT do that, but DO understand that principle.)
Aikido is that martial art where someone’s energy is not resisted, but merely redirected. That is what I am talking about here. Redirect some of that resistance into changes in performance and action.
But also look at the reality that change takes time. One study on implementing TQM in different companies said that it took the real commitment of everyone and an average of THREE YEARS to fully implement. Again, I know of no fairy dust to do this. Thus, the changes you want need to be aligned to real organizational objectives that have real impacts.
But little changes need facilitation and engagement, too, for all those reasons of building a culture with a base of successful achievements.

IOA: Finally, how is Square Wheels relevant to each of these questions and to Change Management in general?

Thanks for asking.
Yes, the illustrations and approach are all over this issue of change. I have written about it very extensively in a series of articles called, “Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly.”
One facilitates a discussion with the Square Wheels One cartoon, using tabletops of 6 people each. You simply ask them how the illustration represents how most organizations really work.
Oh, a sidebar that demonstrates everything about this resistance idea:  A trainer years ago showed the cartoon to a bunch of engineers who did not want to be “trained” and who would rather be engineering. She asked, “How does this illustration represent how your organization really works.” Not a BIG difference, but by saying, “your”, she transferred the cartoon question from an inkblot kind of projective session into an attack by training on engineering. They reacted negatively and caustically.
She did not understand the reaction until she told me what she said — she stopped in mid-sentence and realized exactly what happened! Interesting…
SO, you say “most organizations” and let them play with ideas. Their ideas. And what happens is that you create a language of Square Wheels and Round Wheels, with the square ones representing things that could work more smoothly and the round ones being the unimplemented ideas for possible use.
Square Wheels are things, perceived and real, and talking about them is not an attack on anyone. Once something is labeled a Square Wheel, our brains work to generate other possibilities. That is just how things work. So changing the language makes resistance less likely, and it is their tabletop talking, not the manager.
I try to keep things simple and the use of these illustrations IS pretty simple.

Scott’s cartoons are organizational inkblot tests and he generally refrains from telling people what they see, letting them draw their own conclusions. ON the other hand, the cartoons do speak to a lot of different organizational realities.


Over the past couple of weeks, since his interview with me us , Scott started up a NEW blog at: http://poemsontheworkplace.wordpress.com/


It is a compendium of cartoons, quips, one-liners, poems, and Haiku, all of which are little tidbits that you would probably find pretty funny and true.


So far, there are 80 or so of these posts –short and to the point — with promises of more to come.


You can see a gallery of them, each with a bit of content and support if you click through. My personal favorite might be







Here is a link to Scott’s blog: http://performancemanagementcompanyblog.com/

The “Teaching The Caterpillar” blog article is also at this link:

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Category: Behavior, Heads Up, Miscellaneous

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