Throwing Management to the Dogs
How can I possibly expect my dog to understand when people do not? But she does.by Mary Kelly
Everything I learned about management I learned from my dog. Let me explain. I’ve been employed to manage people for more than 15 years. Most management is about getting people to do what you want them to do, at the right time, in the right place, with the right results. Employees know their jobs, understand the instructions, and sometimes still fail to do what is expected of them. So how can I possibly expect my dog to understand when people do not? But she does. She consistently does what I ask her to do. Is it because I am doing something with my dog that is more effective than what I do with people at work? Further reflection on canines and humans yielded three important, yet often overlooked, management rules. 1. Reward good behavior. Most managers don’t. Most supervisors provide only the required yearly feedback, repeating tired lines about how valued the employee is to the organization. Good behavior is seldom rewarded or acknowledged as it should be. Positive reinforcement is sadly lacking by many managers. Go ahead, ask people at work. How many of the people in your workplace feel they get the recognition they deserve? Why is this important? Because of my dog. When I say “sit” and she sits right away, she gets a treat. If she doesn’t, I help her into a sit and tell her that is a “sit.” But she gets no treat. She learned fast that treats are delivered when she does the right thing at the right time. So now I can depend on her to sit when I ask. Frequently, however, we don’t apply immediate rewards to people. We forget to verbally thank them for doing a good job. We don’t write the note to show appreciation. We neglect to inform them that what they are doing is correct, noticed and appreciated. We don’t reward them. Instead, what usually happens? When people work hard and are dependable, they are usually the first ones to get tasked with doing more work. Paradoxically, we are punishing those people who are working hard. This leads to Rule No. 2. 2. Don’t reward bad behavior. This sounds simple, but in the workplace, it’s difficult. When employees are not performing the way they should, they are often ignored, rather than sent for training or taught correct action on the spot. Many times supervisors don’t take action to remedy poor performance. Why? Because it is easier not to take any action at all. Some managers don’t counsel or train employees when they see a problem because they a) hope the performance will get better on its own; b) are afraid of confrontation; c) are afraid of not being popular with the employees. Unfortunately, not only is this cowardly management practice, but it is unfair to the employee. How are employees supposed to know if the supervisors don’t tell them? A worker has a right to know if what they are doing is wrong. Tell them now. By allowing bad behavior to continue, the manager is tacitly approving poor performance, which encourages more substandard behavior. It also sends the message to other employees that there is little incentive to strive for good work. My dog trainers say the same thing. Rewarding or allowing bad behavior creates more of the same. The key to good performance is to reward good behavior and gently correct bad behavior; every time. Which leads to Rule No. 3. 3. Be consistent. This is the toughest rule to apply, because as a manager you have to do it all the time. One of the major complaints from employees is that managers randomly enforce rules. Lack of consistency creates uncertainty, confusion and disdain. Some great advice from my dog’s breeder: “There is no ‘sometimes’ in a dog’s world.” For example, if you cuddle with the dog on the couch on Saturdays, but yell at the dog on Sundays for jumping on the same couch, the dog is confused. “How is this wrong when you told me it was OK yesterday?” The complaint is the same for people. “How is this wrong when I’ve been doing this for three months?” Applying the rules fairly is part of being a good manager. That doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions, but good managers know when they are warranted. So when people do their jobs well, look for ways to reward them. When employees don’t, managers should try to help them find the right way to perform, and do it all the time. If every time I did something really well my boss gave me a treat, like a mocha latte, I’d be motivated. Inspired. Enthusiastic. Cheerful. Also caffeinated, but eager to do more work. Now if I could only take my dog to work.