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The Shiny Box Syndrome

When it comes to improving performance, are “humans” your biggest challenge? This question is answered for you within your organization primarily by…you. Your thought/response to this question reveals volumes about your perspective, your approach, and your focus.

What you focus upon expands.

If human performance / human behavior (as exemplified by stagnant safety stats, less-than-acceptable quality, significant errors, poor morale, contentious labor relations, lack of engagement, etc.) seems to be a significant challenge, AND you honestly want to help things improve, it’s time for you to (1) take a good long look in the mirror, and (2) shift your rudder of current perspective.

Somehow, whether due to a left-brained (logical-minded) bias, or simple ignorance of basic behavioral psychology, many organizations have fallen into the trap of thinking that an adequate number of six sigma studies or LEAN projects, sufficient management oversight, prescriptiveness, or the accumulation and analysis of large quantities of data will somehow reach critical mass, magically revealing the pathway toward human performance “nirvana”.

Such thought and endeavor are classic symptoms of the Shiny Box Syndrome.

“Shiny Box Syndrome” defined: A pattern of organizational endeavor employing primary reliance upon data and/or engineered logic/solutions in efforts to positively impact the human behaviors of its members

Are you or your organization suffering from the Shiny Box?

If you have taken specific measures to improve, and find that human performance/behaviors remain as an acute or chronic challenge, odds are pretty good that you have availed yourself to the tempting Sirens of the Shiny Box.

Here’s a clue…

Symptoms of the Shiny Box How many are present in your organization?

  • Senior members of your leadership team state that they “support human performance” (and this is pretty much the extent of their involvement / commitment)

  • “Human Performance” has been handed off to a committee with little (if any) direct sponsorship support, and a distinct lack of senior leader “the buck stops here” decision-making

  • A common near-immediate response when an error occurs is, “Who are we going to hold accountable?”

  • Members of leadership/management are required to perform a specified number of work observations per [month] (vice minimum amount of time in the field)

  • The primary focus of work observations is completion of prescriptive “coaching cards” such that data can be input into a database

  • A minimum number of “near miss” reports are required to be completed/input per [month]

  • A “coaching card” is not considered adequate unless at least one negative / “needs improvement” comment is included

  • The opportunity to input positives into your “coaching” database is minimal / non-existent

  • Observations focus on rote routine and adherence to administrative prescriptiveness rather than on worker engagement and behaviors

  • Having the “tools” handbook / lanyard tag present for each worker on the jobsite is something specifically looked for when observing work in progress

  • Senior leaders are willing to invest in databases, but not in training specifically geared to expand worker context and elevate behaviors

  • The organization is willing to invest in human behavior training and “team building” retreats for the leadership team, but rarely (if ever) for frontline workers

  • Any noted challenge, including those associated with human behavior is “dealt with” by launching another six sigma study/analysis

  • When an event occurs, “human error” is frequently cited as the cause

While there are many additional symptoms, the list above offers some of the most insidious. The more boxes you checked, the deeper down the hole lay your current efforts.

You may already be aware of this, but no Shiny Box will ever “fix” your “people problem”. It will never allow you to achieve or sustain Next-Level Performance. It is typically expensive, its cumulative requirements offer an ever-swelling administrative burden, it provides little (if any) return on investment, and is, in fact, one of the chief causes of epidemic “programs of the day” with which most of us are familiar.

Beginning a Cure…

Recognition is the first rung of remedy. Even if you were already aware that your performance train is not necessarily heading down the best possible track, truthful assessment of any current organizational symptoms of the Shiny Box should help clarify your insight, and hopefully strengthen your resolve to do something different.

Your best first action step is to follow the simple remedy practiced for years by common-sense doctors…

Doc: “What seems to be the problem?” Patient: “Well, Doc,” offers the man while twisting his wrist to the left, “it hurts when I do this.” Doc: “Well, then…stop doing that!”

The message is pretty simple: if what you are currently doing is causing pain and adding little (if any) value, STOP it! Here’s a fun clip regarding a quick remedy for dealing with this syndrome: Therapy for the Shiny Box

Until next time,


Tim Autrey

Founder/CEO-Practicing Perfection Institute, Inc.

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