Performance Management Blog

Dis-Un-Engagement – Improving Motivation and Facilitating Workplace Improvement
Daniel Kahnemann's What you see is all there is and Square Wheels One

Dis-Un-Engagement is a simple model that suggests people ARE un-engaged and that managers can REMOVE things that are getting in the way of performing. Improving motivation is an outcome.

Solutions to performance improvement are not always obvious and apparent and selecting an optimal approach often requires careful analysis and planning. Sometimes, the solution requires training of a skill while other times, it is simply about choosing an implementation strategy that is more effective in supporting behavior change.

In the case of workplace engagement, we are spending billions of dollars annually in surveys and training that is supposed to improve the feelings of involvement on the part of employees. Yet nearly every research study shows that many organizations and many people in most every organization, are dis-engaged and uninvolved.

In an older Gallup research paper, involving 1.4 million people and almost 50,000 organizations, it clearly demonstrated the impacts of an involved workplace, studying 9 different performance outcomes. Here are the results when one compares the top 25% of organizations with the bottom 25%:

  • 37% lower absenteeism
  • 25% lower turnover (in high-turnover organizations)
  • 65% lower turnover (in low-turnover organizations)
  • 28% less shrinkage
  • 48% fewer safety incidents
  • 41% fewer patient safety incidents
  • 41% fewer quality incidents (defects)
  • 10% higher customer metrics
  • 21% higher productivity
  • 22% higher profitability

(There is a LOT of data much newer than the above says precisely the same thing. Not much has really changed.)

Many suggest that firing and hiring is the best solution to the issue of un-engaged workers. Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, suggests firing the 7,000,000 managers who are toxic and are poisoning 70,000,000 workers. And there ARE a lot of toxic managers out there — just look at the continuing problems with turnover.

A 2023 Fortune article had this to say:

 Our recent poll found that 64% of respondents have experienced a toxic work environment–and 44% blamed leadership. Not just their direct manager, but the entire leadership team. Respondents defined a toxic workplace as one that was disrespectful (55%), abusive (34%), non-inclusive (30%), unethical (29%), or cutthroat (21%). Female respondents were most likely to report toxic experiences, compared with males or people who are nonbinary. White respondents were 10% more likely to say they’ve been able to move on from a toxic job, compared with Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian, and other respondents of color. Leadership was most often to blame over direct managers, coworkers, or one’s team–and respondents also identified leadership and management training as the top way to fix toxic work situations.

Some managers blame the workers for the problem and suggest that hiring new people is the solution. The costs of that, given the reality of performance in the workplace, would be truly astounding and the cost of such and inititiative would gut your organization of an amazing amount of talent that you have already trained. Remember that these people now being blamed were good hires and probably above average performers when they started. 

Let me propose a somewhat different framework:

If you put a gun to their head, could people do things differently?

This is an old thinking test attributed to Bob Mager that I first heard of back in the 1970s. It is at the core of the issue of whether training is required for some behavior to occur. Could managers do a better job of engaging if their life depended upon it?

My thinking is clearly YES and OF COURSE. And it seems very evident, looking at statistics, that these managers are choosing not to do so.

So, my reframing question is a simple one:

Can Each One Reach One?

Can each supervisor reach one non-engaged person in their workforce and take some action to involve and engage them? Without waiting for extensive training done by some outside organization or Human Resources? Can every single individual supervisor simply choose to do something differently?

Won’t people in the workplace naturally coalesce around the simple theme of making things better? Don’t most people have issues they would like to correct and ideas for improvement? Don’t most people like to solve puzzles and problems?

My approach is anchored with an illustration and a process of involving and engaging people to share their thoughts and ideas.

Our first illustration (1993) and our evolution of the Square Wheels One image looks like this:

The evolution of the different images used as Square Wheels One over the years

And the lead-in question is a really simple one designed to involve and engage people around change:
  –  How might this image represent how most organizations really work?

Square Wheels One - How might this illustration represent how things really work in most organizations

Without detailing the very simple training around how to facilitate the discussion and process the ideas for identifying and prioritizing the Square Wheels or designing approaches to successfully implement the Round Wheels and celebrate the successes and impacts, the basic concept is that any supervisor can be taught the facilitation skills and frameworks to make such a discussion process easy and straightforward. By getting managers to facilitate a discussion about workplace improvement ideas, they are acting to better involve and engage their people. And, with some clear ideas about what the Square Wheels might be and what Round Wheel solutions might be implemented, the end result is workplace improvement and better communications.

 AND, if managers are not acting in a way to better involve and engage their people,
they are clearly demonstrating that they are among those 7,000,000 toxic managers
that Jim Clifton suggested should be fired!

With a little bit of customization, one can easily align the most successful implementation strategies to the organization’s culture of best practices and optimal ways to introduce new ideas in the workplace.

With a little imagination, the approach can be linked to the existing feedback and measurement systems to generate sustained improvement and congruence with existing expectations and desired results.

The optimal approach that I suggest is to initially get the buy-in from senior management to use this illustration and the concept that the Round Wheels are already in the wagon to develop an online training course on facilitation skills using these illustrations. They could have some discussions around this theme and begin to use the language of Square Wheels to talk about issues and opportunities.

A program for improvement can be targeted to specific desired organizational outcomes around process improvement, service quality improvement, team building, innovation, process improvement or it can simply be used to generate some clear understanding of the issues that are perceived to be un-engaging and frustrating in the workplace and to allow team-based organizational improvement.

HR could customize worksheets for collection of the general ideas for improvement as well as specific ones that people would like to see improved. Issues not solvable at the supervisor level can be collected for manager resolution or escalated to higher levels of the organization as well as across organizational boundaries. HR and Training certainly know how to build a program to support this initiative within the current culture of the organization. From discussions, it is easy and straightforward to collect Best Practices that can be shared across teams of people doing similar jobs. It works well for addressing inter-departmental issues, since the language of Square Wheels is easily understood as something that works, but that does not work smoothly and efficiently.

The conversations also set up the reality of continuous continuous improvement, since The Round Wheels of Today will inevitably and invariably become The Square Wheels of Tomorrow.

Solution: I envision that we co-develop a simple online training program specifically for your organization that would take a supervisor about an hour to complete and one that would offer them some options for how they might use the illustration and related solutions in their workplaces, with individuals for coaching or for team building problem solving and roadblock management.


Daniel Kahnemann's What you see is all there is and Square Wheels One

I do see this issue of Dis-Un-Engagement as a specific approach to dealing with the less than involved and engaged employees, a group thought to represent roughly 70% of all workers across organizations. Your best managers may have higher levels of engaged people; your worse ones have more opportunities for improvement.

Note: Square Wheels® are the protected intellectual property of Performance Management Company and we have three decades of experience in using them for a wide variety of organizational development purposes. We think that the possibilities for improvement will only and always increase when people “step back from the wagon” and look for what can be improved and what can be done differently. Actively involving people in discussions like this will go a long way to help remove many of the roadblocks that workers often feel when it comes to discussing issues and opportunities. We are wide open to collaborating with organizations to design effective performance management solutions that mesh with the existing and desired cultures.

YOU can improve workplace facilitation of ideas, generate higher levels of intrinsic motivation, and do a better job of innovating.

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:

The exercise has many links to the themes of trust (within and between teams) with a strong focus on trust in the leadership and on collaboration between the teams. This is THE world-class exercise anchored to these elements, based on three decades of client feedback.

logo for Lost Dutchman Virtual online edition


Here is a link to a press release about The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine teambuilding exercise and its 30 years of positively impacting people and performance.

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 – 2023. 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.

Subscribe to the blog



1 Comment

  1. Paul

    I believe that one of the best way to improve motivation and facilitate workplace improvement is to engage with employees and have them involve. For any companies who wants to be the leader in their industry and be successful should take the time to invest in it’s employees. Thanks for the great informative read and the interesting stats.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like