Performance Management Blog

Engage People for Performance Improvement
Bad ideas on how to motivate people, with money and gun

The manager is the key to engagement and engagement is the key to performance improvement.

Here are some simple Square Wheels images and simple thoughts to illustrate this idea and the images should generate some simple ideas for doing things differently. PMC sells simple tools for managers to use to better involve and engage people in workplace improvement and teambuilding initiatives.

For a long time, I have played with Square Wheel® images that reflect my thinking about training and improvement. And I also believe that most people know the answers to most questions if we can ask the right question at the right time. The Round Wheels are already in the wagon, in my thinking.

A zillion years ago — and I mean when the luggable 30-pound computers were “the laptops of choice”, the performance improvement consultants I worked with used to use the old Bob Mager determiner:

“If you put a gun to their head, could they do it?”
(This was also known for the non-coercive thinkers as,
       “If you gave them a million dollars, could they do it?”) 

The above was the framework for clarifying if training was the solution to a performance problem. And often, it was not. This framework gave rise to an illustration I often used in management training programs with a component on Motivation and People — and it neatly tended to reflect the either-or views of people and performance that are common with most managers in most organizations. Many people believe that there were two choices – Rewards or “Aversive Control.” So, I asked them to discuss the following:


But the left side generates a need to repeat / increase to get people re-motivated (and has all kinds of other negative side effects (see the work of Alfie Kohn and Dan Pink) while the right side has all kinds of other negative side effects (look at all the examples of it in relation to population control and policing). Or, read my post on sabotage in organizations.

Aversive control generates compliance, when the people feel that they are being under that direct influence; remove the perception of control and behavior shifts quickly… There is a ton of research on compliance and punishment and conditioned helplessness that supports the fact that punishing kinds of things depress performance and motivation in all kinds of negative ways.

So, we come back to the issue of performance: Can the person DO the job or NOT? 

The “gun” test is merely a mental exercise:
Does the person have the knowledge and capability to do the job right now? CAN they do it? 

If not, then TRAINING may be one of the solutions. Capability* is another. But an assessment is warranted; just adding rewards or punishments is a horrible way to proceed. Maybe try coaching or peer-based on-the-job training.

(*  If there is a capability issue, that the person will be unable to do the job, then the alternatives are different and might include role changes or job aids. I will never be able to dunk a basketball and I have tried and tried. But provide me with a mini-trampoline and the situation would change! For a while, there was a professional roller-blade basketball league — can you imagine dunking on roller blades? There was also that trampoline-based basketball league. Yeah, baby!)

So, TRAIN THEM if they can do the job post-training. Training builds up personal strengths and capabilities, as shown below. But training itself is NOT the solution to most organizational problems. Training might help make incremental improvements as shown on the right. And note that there are some other issues in the picture:

Muscle Building and the impacts of training on the Square Wheels wagon journey


Training it will also NOT solve workplace issues and opportunities. In fact, management sometimes takes this opportunity to make other workplace improvements to generate more results. The name of this illustration is, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world!”

Is competition in the remote workplace giving organizations a hard time?

The key to a lot of workplace improvement is engagement, involvement, process improvement, feedback about performance results and the sense of pride and teamwork that comes from celebrating successes.

Square Wheels to Round Wheels and the Innovation, celebration, success, motivation and teamwork and The Plane


I don’t know the solutions to most workplace problems. Nobody really has a total grip on all the issues and opportunities that exist in the workplaces, especially with the new focus on remote working and remote managing. People are different, managers are different and organizations are different. The clarity of missions and visions and the alignment to goals is critical, as are the continuous analysis of performance improvement opportunities.

What I do know is that most people in most organizations know most of the things that need to be done differently to make significant improvements in performance while driving motivation at the same time. Involve and Engage is certainly a key framework, as is ASKING people for their ideas. 

And what I do know is that this Spring Forward Monday Toolkit is a foolproof way to start a discussion with onsite or remote teams about issues and opportunities they see for improvement in how things really work:

the main question about how the image represents how organizations really work.

For the FUN of It!

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 who is trying to retire!! He now lives in Cuenca, Ecuador.

You can reach Scott at

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Here is a 2-minute overview of our new online, virtual team building game:

logo for Lost Dutchman Virtual online edition


Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is a trademark of Performance Management Company
Square Wheels images © Performance Management Company, 1993 – 2022. All rights reserved.


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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