Performance Management Blog

Tribal Wisdom and Organizational Improvement – Thoughts on dealing with a dead horse

Organizational engagement, workplace involvement, and leadership facilitation are all parts of an organizational alignment strategy. And while much has been written on the issue, we need to remember that many of the old strategies and tactics taken to resolve organizational issues are not new ones.

The Navajo nation is said to have a saying that rings true when one thinks of so many people in so many workplaces:

Navajo Not possible to awaken

HR can do all it wants to, but if the people at their desks are choosing not to be involved or engaged or high-performing, no amount of spending will make any difference.

Let me illustrate with a different tribe and a different perspective. If one looks at employment practices in many places, they may appear to be designed to not generate involvement or engagement. I am reminded of Samuel Goldwyn and his reported,

“When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”

NOT engaging people kinda reminds me about that Dakota Indian tribal wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. However, in business we often try other strategies with dead horses and unengaged people, including the following:

  •   Buying a stronger whip or whips.
  •   Changing riders or changing the leadership team.
  •   Restructuring around the issue: “This is the way we always have ridden this horse.”
  •   Appointing a committee to study the horse, riding, training and support systems.
  •   Arranging to visit other sites to see how they ride dead horses.
  •   Increasing the standards for riding dead horses to exclude poor performers.
  •   Appointing a tiger team to revive the dead horse.
  •   Creating a training session with the desired outcome of increasing riding ability / best practices.
  •   Comparing the state of dead horses in today’s environment.
  •  Change the requirements declaring that “This horse is not dead.”
  •  Hire contractors to ride the dead horse.
  •  Harnessing several dead horses together for increased speed.
  •  Declaring simply that “No horse is too dead to beat.”
  •  Providing additional funding to increase the horse’s performance.
  •  Do a Case Study to see if contractors can ride it cheaper.
  •  Purchase a product from a TV vendor to make dead horses run faster.
  •  Declare the horse is “better, faster and cheaper” dead than alive when stored on a bullet train.
  •  Form a quality circle to find uses for dead horses.
  •  Revisit the performance requirements for horses.
  •  Say this horse was procured with cost as an independent variable to test financial system strength.
  •  Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position (again).

Please note: I am not picking on dead horses. I am just relating to Dakota Indian tribal wisdom, and using the metaphor of a dead horse, apparently. You can substitute your own animal or inanimate object like a desk or supervisor in the above explanation.

We make choices all the time. We ought to be choosing to better involve and engage people for workplace improvement and performance.

As Scott Adams said in The Dilbert Principles,

Mission - all good companies have one


and as Max DePree said in his neat little book, Leadership is an Art:

Max DePree - cannot become


Let’s do more to awaken our people and to help them work together more effectively. Let’s look for ways to improve engagement and increase intrinsic motivation for workplace improvement. The potential is out there!

Performance Management Company sells simple tools for involving and engaging people in workplace performance, including management team building exercises like The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine and our series of Square Wheels toolkits.

Check them out, sign up for our blog, and have some fun out there, too.


scott tiny casual


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

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Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.


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Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of the amazing Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game and the Square Wheels facilitation and engagement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced global presenter. -- You can reach Scott at and a detailed profile is here: -- 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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