Dog Days of Work
By Michael Patterson
Consulting with businesses and managers who, like myself, have a canine or two at home, I discovered that they often would spend more resources on, and have more patience in, training and developing their pet than they would on the employees who worked with or under them. Frankly, they treated their dogs better than they’d even think to treat their employees! Lack of employee development can lead to lowered productivity, workplace strife and discomfort, higher employee turnover rates, hampered growth, and many other debilitating results.
This is why I make a point to tell managers they should treat their employees like dogs! When you do that, then you’ll see the results you want to see—and that your business requires in order for it to grow. While I am certainly not comparing your employees to dogs, it’s worth noting the cross-species similarities between certain needs, behaviors, and motivational factors:
- Both are loyal and want to please.
- Both may take their cues from certain pack leaders.
- Both may be motivated by rewards and appreciation.
- Both have different traits, skills, and characteristics that enable them to fill specific roles.
- Both need clear expectations and boundaries.
Choosing the Right Breed
Choosing the right dog for your family is not as simple as picking out the cutest puppy behind the window. First, understand what role you want the dog to play in your home; have a job description just like the job descriptions you create at work. Do you want the dog to be big, small, playful, or intimidating? You wouldn’t bring home a St. Bernard if you live in a small studio apartment.
Managers also need to choose the right candidate for the job based on personality, qualifications, expectations, skill sets, and previous work experience. Each job at your organization requires specific skills, so choose the best-fit employee to fill those roles. Sometimes managers make the mistake of hiring or promoting the wrong employee for those positions. By not matching the right employee with the right role, managers are creating a skill gap from the beginning, which will require coaching and training more quickly than you may have anticipated.
Bringing the New Pup Home
A puppy wants to investigate his new environment from day one. He will walk from room to room checking out the sights and sniffing the scents. He is curious, and you need to monitor where he’s going and what he’s doing. You follow him around because you know he can get into a lot of trouble if left unattended on his own.
New employees in your office will want to investigate their new environment, as well. From entry-level positions on up, new employees need a structured training and onboarding process to understand policies, procedures, and company culture. A structured orientation program will help define the organizational culture for the employee. Employees will have questions as the days, weeks, and months go on, so make sure they have an outlet to obtain the correct answers in a timely manner after orientation.
Managers should monitor employees’ behavior beginning from the first day, and continuing throughout their careers with your organization. Monitoring behavior is not the same thing as micromanaging, spying on, or smothering your employees. Monitoring behavior allows you to see what your employees are doing, and how they are doing it, which are both crucial to the coaching process. If an employee is not meeting expectations, but you don’t know what, specifically, he or she is doing, then you won’t know how to work with him or her to improve performance.
Show Them the Way
Dogs don’t know what they are supposed to do unless we take the time to show them. Early commands for a new puppy focus on stopping negative behaviors. “No” and “leave it” all tell a puppy what not to do; but just as much time should be spent encouraging an alternate, positive behavior. Instead of solely reprimanding your dog for chewing on your shoe, offer him a bone or toy, something you want him to chew on instead. By providing some direction, you are showing him your expectations of positive behavior. The dog likely will comply. After all, most dogs crave attention, affection, and treats.
Your employees also need direction. Managers assume employees know what is expected of them, but often that is not the case. Managers need to discover and understand the performance gap, the difference between how the employee is performing compared to expectations.
It makes sense to inform employees about what you expect them to do and to show them how to do it. It’s so easy to do it that it’s often not done! Managers need to provide their employees with the proper knowledge, and provide it in such a way that it’s engaging to the employee. Some people learn by reading or watching, and others by doing. Teach employees in a way that is conducive to them, not you.
A dog doesn’t understand what you mean when you ask him to sit, stay, or lay down. Dogs learn these commands because you show them what to do, and because there is something in it for them when they comply. You determine their motivation, and reward them with treats, toys, or affection.
Employees are motivated by different things. They cherish their different toys, as well. Some employees are motivated by money, a day off, free lunch, or personal recognition from their supervisor. What motivates one employee may not motivate another, and what motivates you may not motivate them. Discover what motivates each of your employees by talking with and getting to know them. Understand what your employees care about most, and use it to create a reward structure catered specifically to them.
Don’t Forget to Let Them Out and Play
When I come home, the dogs are ready to get out and release some pent-up energy. They’ve been in the house alone all day, so we know they need time to go out and play. I always joke that my dogs would never run away from home—they have it too good here to go anywhere else.
Outward appreciation of your staff will go a long way toward retaining your employees. Just like retaining your customer base, employees need to know they are receiving something from your organization that they won’t get somewhere else.
Remember, your employees are the lifeblood of your organization. Obviously, employees are not pets. Managers need to take time to get to know their employees personally. By understanding what drives your employees and what is important to them, you can create an engaging and motivating interaction. A highly engaged, dedicated, and respected staff supplied with the knowledge, ability, and motivation to get the job done will succeed. Your staff’s success becomes your success.
Excerpt from “Sit, Stay, Succeed!” by Michael Patterson (Tremendous Life Books: July 2012). For more information, visit http://www.mikepat.com/sit-stay-succeed.php
Michael Patterson is a speaker and trainer who specializes in leadership, coaching, and employee development topics. He is the author of “Sit. Stay. Succeed!: Management Lessons From Man’s Best Friend.” For more information, visit www.mikepat.com