Performance Management Blog

Metaphors as Tools for Organizational Improvement

Ah, LinkedIn. Sometimes, a post in there just triggers some good thinking on my part (or at least makes me generate a response which I can then use as a blog piece…). This time, it was a post on the Power of Metaphors.

A lot of what I do is all about metaphor – it is about using my Square Wheels One cartoon as an inkblot test to generate perceptions and also about using a facilitation process to elicit and process ideas for organizational improvement and personal development. Call it “facilitative coaching” or some such thing…

Here is what I said in my response:

‘We’ve been playing with a metaphor of a wooden wagon being pulled by a guy with a rope and being pushed from behind by people who cannot see where they are going. The wagon rolls on wooden “Square Wheels” while the cargo of the wagon is round rubber tires.

The metaphor resonates in all kinds of different situations, from boardrooms (where the rope is very very long) to the shop floor (where the View at The Back is very common among workers and supervisors) to situations of counseling and coaching (where “stepping back from the wagon” is most helpful, to the situations where people need to discuss the best practices that already exist and put the wagon up on blocks for a while to play with different ideas.

The pretty darn consistent message that I get from people is that they will remember the workshop many years later. In December, I met a senior manager at a company in Mumbai who remembered a session I delivered in 1994 at an ISPI meeting. I don’t mean that he remembered attending a session that I delivered, I mean that he remembered the cartoons I used and the issues and opportunities that I discussed.

Metaphors are most powerful, and especially when one uses them in a way that is active and not simply the passive receipt of the story. I tell a Moose Joke (you can get the slides free) to close many of my sessions and that is well received. But few people will remember it.

When they sit and contemplate the Square Wheels One cartoon, and generate ideas as a tabletop of participants, and then list the Square Wheels that they perceive are operating in their workplace or their situations and then generate some round wheel possibilities and share them amongst the others to find some Best Practices, those things are remembered really well.

And having fun playing with ideas is important. After all, caterpillars can fly if they would just lighten up!

If only I could remember how to swing a golf club that well…

For the FUN of It!”

Yes, I DO think that we can use storytelling and other kinds of metaphorical interventions to allow people to think of new ways of doing things. And you must know that “their ideas are always better than your ideas.”

By that, I mean that they can come up with ideas that they own and with that ownership, they are much more likely to actually DO something differently regarding that situation, rather than simply nod their heads and pretend that you have their commitment. It is why the issue of commitment so closely ties to the issues of involvement and engagement.

I think metaphors are a great way to lead people forward and to generate the ownership and peer support that will more effectively drive intrinsic motivation toward mastery and improvement.

We can help people move forward by involvement and engagement and new perspectives

Or maybe this one would be a better depiction:

Leaders can lead and involve and engage and implement

Have fun out there!

(see our tools on coaching at http://www.performancemanagementcompany.com/Square_Wheels_for_Coaching_p/17.htm)

Dr. Scott Simmerman

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, earning CPT and CPF credentials. -- You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com and a detailed profile is here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scottsimmerman/ -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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