A Tabletop Exercise: A Survey Within a Survey

A Tabletop Exercise: A Survey Within a Survey

Guest writer David Jensen continues to make observations from rural New Mexico with “A Tabletop Exercise: A Survey Within a Survey.”

As a first responder in the Fire Service, a firefighter learns the value of a tabletop exercise. An actual tabletop containing several buckets of sand provides the platform for creating a simulation of a wildfire incident. We survey any number of data points (weather, topography, fire behavior) to build a simulation. The simulation only comes to life when you match the data points with a small relevant set of behavioral questions. The questions form the tabletop exercise. The choices presented on the tabletop are neither right nor wrong. The questions do require a behavioral answer. In effect we are conducting a survey within a survey. When you conduct the tabletop exercise, the data points (survey 1) translate into actual behavior (survey 2) on the ground during the fire simulation. The exercise allows you to drill down to the decision-making tree of the Incident Commander. The survey within the survey.

As an HR Professional, I again experienced the importance of a tabletop exercise built on behavioral questions. As an example, a key HR deliverable was a location-wide employee satisfaction survey. The initial data collection was outsourced to an independent collection service. The extensive surveys covered many aspects of employee satisfaction ranging from pay and benefits to the choices in the vending machines in the breakroom. Upon completion of the survey, the collection service would provide a vast amount of data. The data dump was not the end of the process, it was the start. After reviewing the data, a tabletop exercise would be assembled to be used during the follow up with small group employee meetings.

The tabletop questions would provide an assessment of the motivation and the concerns of the small group. The survey within the survey. The tabletop was the link between data and behavior. The issue regarding choices in the vending machine may really be about a manager’s unacceptable behavior.

The tabletop exercise with a few relevant behavioral questions can be applied to a variety of data collection efforts. Our legal system is a discovery phase leading to a court room tabletop exercise. The foundation of effective job interviewing is asking performance and behavioral questions drawn from a resume. The survey within the survey. The value of a 360 supervisory assessment comes to life when you follow up with an effective tabletop exercise with the supervisor receiving behavioral coaching. Paper and pencil inventories concerning personality, values or ethics become useful when followed up with and validated by a tabletop exercise. Again, a survey within a survey.

In some circumstances, a short concise tabletop exercise may stand in place of extensive and expensive data collection. The right set of relevant questions can identify trends that will point you in a direction. Recently, I developed a tabletop exercise that asks a small number of behavioral questions. The possible answers trended towards an experience-based solution or an option-based solution. The provided choices were neither right nor wrong. How participants responded was then matched to data on individual participant success in one-to-one customer communication and customer retention. A survey within a survey.

Bottom-line; in this era of super computers and AI, a few relevant questions presented using a tabletop exercise in a person-to-person encounter should not be overlooked, it should be embraced. It is the person-to-person conversation found in the tabletop exercise that translates data into behavior.

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Observations from Rural New Mexico

Observations from Rural New Mexico

Guest writer David Jensen shares this week’s blog post with his “Observations from Rural New Mexico.”

“Work, really? 


Didn’t I just do that yesterday?”

I recently observed a t-shirt with the above phrase. It seems to sum up the current attitude among many regarding work.  Clearly the individual is in disbelief that we are to return to work the next day.  If you Google the statement, “My Work is ……”  some of the top responses are as follows:  boring, makes me ill, is killing me, is stressful. At the risk of sounding as old as I am, I do not understand how the current generation views employment. From my teen years working in my father’s store to the present, I have found work to be the source of many important life lessons. So, what is up with this generation? Is it a generation that been “bubble wrapped” to the point that the slightest disappointment is too much? In a current TikTok, an individual was denied requested PTO (paid time off) so he hijacked the phrase PTO to mean “Prepare The Others I am quitting!”  Is this a generation of quitters? Is this idea of work life balance gone too far? Recently, an associate of mine was preparing to offer an applicant a job when this would be employee spoke up and offered a list of demands: no nights, weekends off, two weeks’ vacation and all federal holidays off. The applicant did not get the job! 

Living in rural New Mexico in an agricultural community, nights off and no weekends sounds very foreign. Our livestock operates on their schedule not ours. Although, since only 6% to 8% of the population works in agriculture, maybe “weekends off” is a thing. That said, what is really going on with this generation? Perhaps the researchers who survey worker attitudes and then mark the trends can help provide the answers.

The Gallup Survey

Jon Clifton, CEO of Gallup, in a recent book entitled Blindspot suggests that world leaders have missed the level of employee unhappiness (subjective wellbeing). The belief that an improving GDP benefits all is false. The “misery index” which includes among several indicators a measure of employee dissatisfaction over the last ten plus years is trending higher. Regarding worker dissatisfaction, the Gallup researchers found, based on survey questions that workers can be sorted into three categories. 

  1. Employees who were thriving at work (engaged), who felt they had meaningful employment, equaled 20 % of the population. 
  2. Employees who were indifferent at work (disengaged), who were “quietly quitting” just enough effort not to be fired equaled 62% of the population. 
  3. The remaining 18% were miserable and were actively disengaged to the point of working against the goals of the organization. 

If you have 100 employees, on average 62 are slow walking the effort and not significantly contributing to the success of the enterprise!  Worse yet, you have on average, 18 who are actively working against the goals of the organization. 

Lessons learned! Or relearned! …The Engagement Check List

So, this current generation is not a lost generation after all. The workers are simply disengaged. Lesson learned by leaders are sometimes forgotten. You may recall what the General Electric classic research into experimenter bias taught us. Simply paying attention to the workers improved productivity and the lights had little to do with the outcome. In a time where competition for skilled a worker is ever increasing, the challenge and opportunity that organizations face is to move some of those 62 employees into thriving category (engaged). 

Below is a short check list for getting started:

  • Item 1. Company culture needs to promote positive assumption regarding their employees. People come to work to succeed not to fail. That assumption allows the company to design programs and processes that work to ensure that success is guaranteed. 
  • Item 2.  Employees who come to work to be successful deserve quality supervision.  Training supervisors in best practices for engagement is essential. Engagement should become the center of the plate for the “employer brand”.
  • Item 3. Work rules that are designed to protect the company from the 18 employees that are seeking to undermine company success should be reconsidered.  Any HR policy that communicates a negative value or lack of trust to the 62 we seek to engage, should be eliminated when possible.  Fair employee treatment and equal employee treatment are not same.  It is important to provide fair and valued treatment to the 62 that we seek to engage.
  • Item 4. Connect and engage the employee’s family to the “employer brand”.  Extracurricular company activities for the family. Company logo shirts and caps for the family. Anything that supports a work/life balance can lead to engagement.
  • Item 5. Encourage employees to volunteer in the community. A community volunteer is less likely to be indifferent and disengaged at work.
  • Item 6. Provide opportunities for employees to contribute and learn in their jobs. Skill building and career development is another essential part of “employer brand”
  • Item 7. Encourage employees to recruit a close friend, shared experience between friends can enhance the work environment,

Conclusion: Organizations should develop their own list of actions to enhance engagement. To succeed in a competitive job market with fewer workers, engagement strategy is an essential part of the employer brand.  Otherwise; “Prepare the Others” (PTO) I am leaving!

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Incident Commander

Incident Commander

Our new guest writer David Jensen is the owner/owner/principal consultant of Johnny Creek Consulting LLC located in New Mexico, USA.   Experience includes, 20 years a consultant of Personalysis Corporation; an executive consulting firm. A senior level consultant having attained a Vice President title with the company. He has worked with multiple Fortune 100 companies in various consulting capacities and on a wide range of projects. In his role as a consultant, Jensen works with all levels of teams and individuals, including CEOs of several major organizations. He shares this experience with readers tonight in his first blog for Learning Without Scars: Incident Commander.
Prior to joining Personalysis Corporation, He worked for the US Forest Service and then joined the US Department of Labor where he was a bureau chief responsible for organizational analysis. He next served as a consultant to Martin-Marietta and then moved to Sara Lee Corporation where he was the Director of Employee Relations for the company for over 10 years.
David has taught at both Idaho State University and Boise State University. 
Jensen is a graduate of Idaho State University where he holds both an undergraduate and master’s degree in psychology. His emphasis of study was organizational psychology with his master’s thesis being Proxemic, The Importance of Personal Space.
David has been a featured speaker at national conventions and seminars. His ideas on leadership, teamwork and organizational effectiveness have been well received by diverse audiences.

“ASSUMING Incident Commander (IC)”
Observations from Rural New Mexico

The dispatcher states your assigned call number and asks if you will be “assuming IC.” If the answer is yes; you are thrust into the role of the leader. You now move from the role of a volunteer firefighter to Incident Commander (IC). The moment will challenge what you think you know about leadership. It is now without question, trial by fire. There is no room for half-hearted commitment. So how does a fulltime cowboy step off their horse and step into the driver seat of the command truck. What do they need to know? How is that knowledge different from a president who is responsible for multi-national private enterprise? As it turns out, not so different. Leading a successful business requires the same basic knowledge and skill that a well trained and experienced Incident Commander brings to the fire line. 

Fire training requires that an Incident Commander master five fundamental leadership activities: 

  • Command 
  • Operations
  • Planning
  • Logistics 
  • Finance. 

1.  Command

When you accept the position of President of the company or Incident Commander, you are accountable for the enterprise outcomes. That does not mean that all decision making is retained at the President or Incident Commander level. A notable exception is safety. Safe practices must be always priority number one of any leader. An Incident Commander trained to delegate appropriate authority and decision making to all levels of the fire line down to the individual volunteer firefighter. A hallmark of any successful enterprise is that the individual in command insures employees are engaged and their efforts are recognized. Incident Commanders trained seek opportunities to enhance self-esteem through praise and to empathize with volunteers doing what is often a thankless job. 

2.  Operations 

The key to successful fire line operations is clear effective in-person and radio communication with the line bosses. The communications provide realistic and measurable goals for the operation and define how it is to be executed. Line bosses feedback progress against the objectives until you achieve fire containment. Successful operations within any organization are based on a system of metrics and management feedback. It is the President or Incident Commander responsibility to ensure that this operational feedback loop exists. It is the responsibility of all participants to contribute to the feedback. Every volunteer firefighter understands that it is their responsibility to question communications when they are unclear or unsafe. 

3.  Planning 

An Incident Commander train to develop incident action plans and to conduct an after-action review that can lead to improved outcomes. On an active fire line, the objectives will be influenced by a number of factors such as weather, terrain and type of vegetation which are beyond control of the IC. It is President or Incident Commanders responsibility to insure that tactical and strategic plans developed and revised in response to changing external conditions. Learning from experience and not repeating a costly error is key to any successful enterprise. 

4.  Logistics 

On a fire line the availability of resources on the ground and in the air will determine how the effort will accomplish the operational goals and objectives. It is the President or Incident Commander knowledge of available resources and how they might best deploy that will contribute to the success of the action plans that drives operational success. Fire containment will not move at pace without linking logistics, planning and operations together. In business, it is the President commitment that ensures that shop floor knowledge connects logistics, planning and operations. 

5.  Finance

The leader of an enterprise must be accountable to a stakeholder. The stakeholder may be an owner, a shareholder, or a taxpayer. Whatever form, an assessment of cost and risk is essential. On a fire line all assets are not equal. Decisions must made based on what is at risk. Structure protection is far greater value than grassland. In a business, the President must direct capital towards what offers the best return on investment. Leading a complicated and successful business is an ongoing incident without the fire and the heat! If you are on fire line of a major incident or in the hot seat of a major multi-national private enterprise, to have mastered the five fundamental leadership activities can put you on path to success.

David Jensen MS
Johnny Creek Consulting LLC (Principle)
HR/ Executive Coach
Part-Time cattle rancher
Full time volunteer firefighter

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