For most of the last year, when I am home, you can find me mornings and evenings out in the neighborhood park with one of my best friends, Mogul. He is full of energy; he never nags; and even if I have ignored him for several days, he still catches a Frisbee like it was the most wonderful thing on earth.
Mogul is, of course, a dog. A miniature Australian Shepherd to be more precise. In the past year, he has learned all of the basic dog commands. Things such as sit, stay, down, and heel. On top of that he can catch a Frisbee better than I can, put his toys away, and we are working on roll over and play dead this week.
It has been said that managing people can be like herding cats. If that is true, then I don’t think it too much of a leap to compare employee development to my training of Mogul. At the very least, I have learned a few things from Mogul that I believe can be carried over to teaching those we work with, as well as a few things to avoid.
Here are five things to do, and three things to not do when working with dogs, and perhaps humans as well.
Five Positive Practices:
- When you want your dog’s attention, call him by name. Mogul’s ears pop up whenever I say his name. In the workplace and in life, we all want to be called by name, acknowledged, and recognized. Use a person’s name when talking to them as a means of respect, fellowship, and recognition that you know and appreciate them.
- Be consistent. One of the first things I learned when training a dog is to be consistent in my words, actions, and response. Consistency when dealing with people helps others to know what to expect and how to satisfy your requests.
- Make it fun. Adding some fun to daily training helps Mogul be more willing to work with me as we train together. Many jobs are thankless, and many tasks routine. Find a way to make the job fun, or make the workplace enjoyable, and everyone will benefit.
- Reward good behavior. Mogul likes a high pitched “good boy”, a pat on the head, or sometimes a bacon treat. Rewarding your employees may be a little harder, but if you pay attention, you can find just the right reward to motivate employees. Remember that no two employees are alike, so find what really matters to each individual.
- Spend lots of time with your dog. Mogul recognizes me, and obeys because of the bond we have built up by working together for the last year. Spending time with employees, coaching and mentoring, builds bonds in the workplace. When it comes to helping your employees succeed, absence does not make the heart grow fonder.
And Three Things to Avoid:
- Don’t scold or punish your dog when he comes to you. If I punish Mogul when he comes to me, he will soon stop coming to me. If I punish employees who come to me with a question, or even to admit a mistake, employees will soon stop coming to me. That will be bad for me, bad for the employee, and bad for the business.
- Avoid unrealistic expectations. I would love to teach Mogul how to do a backflip. And while I might someday get him to do that, to expect it now, would be completely unrealistic. And yet in the workplace, how many times do we set unrealistic expectations for our employees, and even for ourselves.
- If the dog isn’t trained the way you would like, don’t take it out on him; you are the trainer. When things fail, do we blame our employees, or do we recognize that we, as leaders, have the greater role in the success of our business.
Working with people, of course, is infinitely more difficult than working with, and training, my good friend Mogul. Mogul has a seemingly endless desire to please, even when I have ignored him, scolded him, or behaved badly. I do think, however, that sometimes we overlook the simple things in work and life that can help us all to be more effective and successful. Sometimes it might be good, too, if we could just go to the park and throw a Frisbee for a while.
Scott Murray is a personal coach, trainer, and consultant who is committed to developing employees and teams into high performing organizations that provide outstanding customer service experiences.