This is an improved version of one of my favorite jolts. It increases the awareness of the reluctance of employees to ask for guidance from their managers.


Divide the participants into pairs. In each pair, randomly assign the roles of the manager and the employee. The employee closes the eyes and draws the familiar smiley face icon. Later, they add a pair of ears to the face, still with their eyes closed. The ensuing debriefing discussion emphasizes the reluctance of the employee to ask for—and for the manager to offer—guidance.


To demonstrate the importance of asking for—and offering—guidance.


Minimum: 2

Maximum: Any number, divided into pairs

Best: 8 to 20


5 minutes for the activity

10 minutes for debriefing


Blank sheets of paper



Instructions to the Employee (one copy for each manager)


Assign roles. Ask the participants to pair up. In each pair, assign the role of the manager to one participant and the role of the employee to the other.

Distribute supplies. Distribute a copy of the handout to each manager and the blank sheet of paper and pencil to each employee.

Read the initial instructions. Ask the manager to read the instruction to the employee. Also ask them to make sure that the employee closes his or her eyes and draws the smiley face.

Conclude the first part. At the end of 30 seconds, ask the employee to stop drawing.

Read the additional instructions. Read the second part and ensure that the employees complete drawing the ears with the eyes closed.

Conclude the activity. Ask the employee to open the eyes and inspect their drawings. Most drawings are likely to have misplaced ears.


The main learning point of this activity is that the employees’ performance would be improved if they ask for help and guidance. Drive home this point with appropriate question.

Emphasize the reluctance of the employees to ask for guidance and feedback from their manager. Adapt this script with your own words:

Most employees feel they must not ask a manager for guidance and feedback because it will reveal their incompetency. Actually, you should ask for guidance from everybody: you manager, your subordinates, your coworkers, you customer, and your friends.

You should ask for guidance all the time. In the smiley activity, you should have asked for guidance for placing the ears in the appropriate locations.

Explain that the managers have a responsibility to provide useful guidance without making the employee feel incompetent. Use these types of debriefing questions:

  • How many managers provided guidance to your employee inn this activity? Why didn’t the major of you offer guidance?

  • How much guidance do you think is appropriate? What are the consequences of providing too much or too little guidance?

  • Based on what you learned from this activity, how would you change the way you delegate responsibilities to your employees?


Instructions to the Employee

Your task is to draw a picture of a smiley face.

Please don’t begin your drawing until I give all the instructions.

Your smiley should have a circular face, two dots for the eyes, and a curved line for a smiling mouth.

Here’s an important constraint for you: You must draw the picture with your eyes closed. Please close your eyes now and keep them closed until I ask you to open them.

You can begin your drawing right now. You have 30 seconds to draw your smiley.

Wait until the employee finished drawing the face. Then, read these additional instructions:

Keep your eyes closed, please. I have some more instructions for you.

Please transfer your pen to the other hand.

I want you to add a pair of ears to your smiley face.

Transfer your pen back to the original hand and draw the two ears.

You have 15 seconds to complete this task.