Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dog Training -- Works for People Too!

I wish my boss would talk to my dog trainer.

There are so many things that Trainer has taught me do with Jedi that I think would be suitable at my job as well. Here are the top five things from Trainer I wish my boss would incorporate at work:

Be Clear. I ensure my commands to Jedi are not ambiguous. I make sure I have eye contact, use short words that can't be confused with something else, and try not to mumble. For example, if it's time to go inside I'll say "Jedi, House" instead of "Well I think it's kind of late, maybe we should think about retiring for the evening." When Jedi runs to the door, I know he's got it.
Supervisors should give employees the same courtesy. It's frustrating to be told half way through a project that you're doing it wrong, or that's not what he was looking for. Tracking down your boss so he can explain a cryptic email is time-consuming. Deadlines and instructions should be clear and concise. And contrary to popular belief, everything can't be TOL (top of the list).
Be Consistent. In my house we have rules. Jedi must sit outside the kitchen while I'm preparing his dinner, he's never allowed out the front door without permission and the trash is off limits. I'm not being mean, that's just the way things are. Surprisingly, Jedi's okay with this. He seems to find comfort in being able to predict my behavior. In fact he gets concerned when the routine is "off."
On that same note, an inconsistent boss is a nightmare. Something that's condoned today should not be condemned tomorrow. It's easier to work for a consistent hardass than someone who's wishy-washy. Employees work better when they're not constantly looking over their shoulder to see to what's going on this time.
Praise Often (and don't be stingy with the treats). Jedi likes being told he's a good boy. You can see it on his face. He know he's done the right thing. A small reward -- be it a belly rub or a Beggin' Strip -- reinforces the behavior. In fact, if I praise and reward in a timely manner, he's more likely to do the behavior again!
Surprisingly, this works the same way with people. It's called operant conditioning. It's not a secret. Books have been written about it. Classes are taught on it. Say "thank you" and "Good job," leave donuts in the break room once in a while, and people will voluntarily work harder. Even better, happy people are more productive.
Have Reasonable Expectations (and set things up for success). When training a new behavior we always start out slow. At dog class Jedi will give me a down/stay for 10 minutes while Trainer is talking. But it wasn't always this way. In Puppy Kindergarten we were happy for a 3 second down, then a 5 second down, slowly working ourselves up to longer times. If Jedi became frustrated we'd back down to an easier level for a while before increasing the difficulty again.
This should be a no-brainer for management. No one wants to fail. It sucks. A good supervisor knows their employees' limitations. Train employees, then supervise until you know they've "got it." If projects are broken down into small, manageable bits, employees are more likely to succeed. Success breeds confidence.
And the final lesson, Don't Rub Their Noses In It. When potty training Jedi we knew mistakes were going to happen. And they did. Messes were cleaned up and we would try to figure out where we wrong in the training. Were we clear? Were we expecting too much too soon? Then we would try to come up with a strategy to prevent it from happening again. Belittling Jedi and constantly bringing up his shortcomings would have just been a waste of time. In fact, it could have ruined the trust between us, making things more difficult in the long run.
It's no different with people. Despite our best efforts sometimes "Shit Happens." When mistakes are harped on people are less likely to try, morale plummets and productively slows down. Let's just deal with it and move on.

There are other dog training techniques that would work for people as well. Things like:
  • Avoid distractions when teaching a new task
  • Find the best motivators for each individual/situation -- and use them!
  • Difficult tasks require a higher value reward
  • Watch your tone and body language
  • New tasks must be repeated multiple times before they become rote, so be patient
What do you think? Makes sense, hunh? I say forget all these management seminars. Instead, send supervisors to dog training classes. Not only will it make them better leaders, it'll make them happier people. Seriously, spending time with my dog is more fun than any leadership training class I've ever taken. -- K

P.S. I am thrilled to see the return of the Training Tips Tuesday hop. A big thanks to our hosts Dogthusiast and Tiffany's Diamond Dogs. This is probably my favorite blog hop. I always learn so much! Click below and see what gems others are sharing today.