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For the Dogs!

It is that time in the semester when I plunge headlong into teaching the topic of performance management.

I have a set of lecture notes that I have been nursing along over the years, adding relevant items as they come up. These notes go back nearly ten years to the period of time when I was living in Canada and working full-time in the U.S. and trying to raise my then puppy, Daphne. The lecture itself was once entitled “Everything I Ever Needed To Know About Performance Management, I Learned From My Dog”.

Daphne is a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Like Tollers, Toller owners are a unique breed. You have to be in order to maintain your sanity. They have complicated personalities. Daphne is a gorgeous dog and has brought a lot of joy to our household, but let’s just say she is a piece of work. While I might agree that some of what makes her a pain in the neck is characteristic of her breed, but I know that the fact that I was away so much when she was a puppy started certain habits that have been impossible to break.

Daphne lives in the moment. She is easily distracted by smells and sounds. She is strong willed. She likes to be first. She whistles. She does backflips for cheese. She lives for rides in the car. She acts like she likes our friends and neighbours more than she likes us.

As a dog owner, I’ve long believed I failed to do it right, but having her in my life has taught me a lot about what to do and what not to do when it comes to performance management in the human world. Here are 5 great tips for performance management:

1. There’s no grace period. Bad habits start almost immediately and are difficult to break. Being clear about your expectations, and rewarding the things people do well and correcting things that can be corrected needs to occur from the beginning.

2. If learning about or mastering a job isn’t fun, it aint worth it. Create an environment where things are fun, even when they are deadly serious. This is key to a productive work environment. Employees are more productive when they enjoy what they do.

3. Be consistent. Letting someone do something just once (like in dog terms, sit on the couch or on the bed) is a recipe for a battle about entitlements. Using Daphne as an example, there was a time when we let her sleep on one side of the bed, and now my husband literally has a raging battle every night for his portion of the sheets. Consistency won’t earn you a popularity award, but it will go a long way toward creating a positive work environment.

4. Give people a territory. Like dogs, humans don’t necessarily adjust well to not having space that is their own. I’m not suggesting that everyone wants a corner office but there has to be a place where your stuff is in reach and you have space to think. When I say space, I also mean intellectual space. Employees perform better when their duties, responsibilities and accountabilities are clear. In dog language, dogs exhibit “pack” mentality and are more social and more able to get along when they understand the pecking order in their family. This is probably the area in which I failed miserably when it came to Daphne. Somehow she got the impression that she was the leader of the pack, and now we are simply her minions.

5. Food is a great reward. Better said, good food is a great reward. Daphne will kiss me for a piece of cheese but will leave the room if she’s offered a dog treat. Food brings people together. It’s all great that we connect over social media, but I sometimes wonder how much more my colleagues in cyberspace and I would accomplish if we were having a planning session over bacon bourbon caramel popcorn.

Ok, enough with the distracting reading—back to work!

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