Last summer, John and I rescued an enormous bouncing golden retriever named Marley. We found him through a rescue organization on the website petfinder.com. We thought he was perfect because he came from Ohio near where John grew up.
I have a pretty soft spot for pets and was moved by Marley’s story–or more aptly, his lack of one.
We did have some information about him. We knew he was someone’s Christmas present based upon his purchase receipt. We knew he was not exercised based on his size. He knew no commands. Based upon his instant fixation on us as “the ones” we knew he was the kind of dog that truly needed love and affection.
Sadly too, we discovered that he was likely mistreated in that he reacts very poorly to correction.
My experience with dogs has had an impact on my career and there are many things about raising dogs that can apply to people and the workplace. We have another dog, Daphne, who is in her own way a piece of work. In her case I blame myself partly for her failings. I was young and childless and I did not understand how quickly bad habits stick, especially in stubborn dogs. By the time I tried to undo what I had done, like let her cry in the car or bark at the mailman, it was too late to fix it.
The fact that Mars was two when he joined our menagerie has presented even bigger challenges. We didn’t know his rules and he didn’t know how to tell us the rules he knew.
So, I failed with him too. He tugged so hard on my heart strings that I came to accept that I would share my pillow with him at night and wake up every morning with him standing over me with his nose sniffing my breath. Also when he is excited he steals my dishtowels and moves shoes around. In most houses, these things would not be acceptable.
The same thing can be said for workplaces. If I had stuck to this sort of plan with Marley’s orientation as is advised below, things could be perfect:
- Provide an orientation immediately. The sooner someone knows the boundaries the better. While HR is not the enforcer, there is some obligation we have to help people start off right. It is like dog poop, you can keep walking by it without scooping it, saying “that’s not my job!”, but then you have to keep looking at and smelling the poop.
- Positively reward good behaviour early and frequently. Eventually you can cool it, but even a few kind words will do wonders to create a high functioning employee.
- Use games and quizzes to reinforce what you want to stick. Being able to demonstrate competence early is a good tool to building a great employee.
- Stress the value of the team. In Marley’s case he had a new sister with a bruised ego to deal with. Good integration depends upon communication, clarity and connection. Help others to find common ground.
- Make it fun! People need to feel early that they’ve made a wise career investment by coming to the company. With Marley we wanted him to feel like the bad times were over and that he had found his new home. This meant that he got to go hiking and experience a much bigger world than we think we had in his earlier life. Whenever he wants to go on one of these hikes, he brings us our shoes!
Ultimately the point is you receive to the extent you invest. All is well in our home even if we did not do this perfectly. It is a reminder though of the value in consistency.
Some keen observations Bonni. LOVE this -> “While HR is not the enforcer, there is some obligation we have to help people start off right.”
p.s. we TOO have a Marley who joined us at about 1 year old after also being someone else’s Christmas present. He was (and remains) skittish, scared and to some degree holding on to the ‘bad habits’ he formed before we got him. And his nickname is “Mr. Marbles.”
Great post Bonni…great take-aways. I like the part about “Positively reward good behaviour early and frequently.” I often think of this at work and at home. We have to ensure that the reward/attention for positive behaviour outweighs the attention for bad behaviour.
It’s amazing how many parallels we can draw between behaviour in the workplace, with kids…or even pets!
Actually, I see many similarities between training pets and raising kids. Fortunately, we were able to toilet train the kids…didn’t quite get around to that with our dog! #wittyHRguys
We didn’t like the name “Marley” for him, but he knew his name already, so we budged it to Mars. . . .as in “No Mars”, and “It’s gotta be the shoes Mars” since he loves to steal shoes. His nickname around the house is “the big galut”! I’ve never met such a lover, in a big sloppy happy sort of way. Anyway, he teaches me lots! Thanks for your comment.